In July, 2008, I, Princess Rachella, Intrepid African American Girl International Journalism Consultant, pulled up stakes once again and headed to Nairobi, Kenya. Through my various adventures, I've concluded that if I get any MORE explosively fabulous in these prequel years to "THE BIG 5-0," I will have to register myself with the Pentagon as a thermonuclear incendiary device.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Rainbow Connection

Sometimes, you just gotta make your own rainbows.

I knew the minute I saw these wine glasses that I would have to own them. As usual, I didn't
NEED them, I just had to have them.

Yeah, I've been in the doldrums, a LOT, these past few weeks. But I've also had some fairly sky "highs" this month, too. For example, I collaborated on an extremely successful journalism briefing last Friday, on agricultural research and child nutrition, that completely obliterated the painful memories of the first god-awful workshop in Kilifi. I attended the 4th Annual Nairobi Wine Festival the next evening, and not only won a bottle of really good wine, but my photo appeared on the Society Page of one of the local newspapers!! It's the first time I've "Scored"" on the social scene in 3 years of living in Nairobi, and it was actually kinda cool.

And these days, I am the Empress of Schmooze, trying to raise the profile of the Kenyan Alliance of Health and Science Reporters project. My motto is, "Have Heels, Will Travel." In fact, my corns are talking to me at this very moment, since I recklessly chose to wear my spiky pumps to a Friday meeting with a big deal Pharma company that wants to support research training. Oh, I KNOW I was smokin' hot, but I've spent most of the weekend crippled.

I guess the brightest spot so far was the dinner party I gave a few evenings ago. I swear, B. Smith ain't got
NUTHIN' on R. Jones. When I'm in the Gourmet Zone, no nose is safe from my aromatic tentacles. Granted, this time around, my marinated snapper didn't quite turn out as perfectly as the first time I made it, and the black eyed peas with half green mangoes were a bit al dente because I didn't soak them overnight, but my seven guests RAVED over everything. Even my Afro American version of sukuma wiki......

ESPECIALLY my sweet potato bread pudding, which I think could usher in world peace in the proper setting.

So, as I draped the table in one of my colorful Kenyan khanga cloths, and carefully arranged my rainbow stemmed wine glasses, I realized that this is just the way it's gonna be from here on out. The hurdles will get higher, the losses deeper, the waist thicker, and the hair grayer, and so on and so forth, but as long as you can still make your own rainbows every now and then, this life still beats the alternative by a country mile.

A Hug From Home

Oh, I forgot about the brightest spot of all this month! Usually, when I roll over in bed in the middle of the night and see the message light flashing on my BlackBerry, I do my best to resist the temptation to read the email. Given the time difference between here and the US, it's likely to be something work related. My insomnia is already bad enough without thinking of all the things that lie in wait once the sun rises.

But one night this month, I gave in and read a message from my brother-in-law Ron (even though my gut churned at the thought of receiving even MORE bad news from home...) But the subject line read, "Cairo's Got Talent," so I figured it couldn't be too awful. Turns out it was the most wonderful news I've received in a long, long time.

I already knew my Broadway Star/actor/songwriter/singer buddy Christopher Jackson had released his first album this month, and even though it took about 3 days to download it on iTunes, I'd managed to listen to it and send him much love and praise from across the miles. It is so
weird to hear someone you know personally singing on your personal portable music device! It means they've achieved a significant level of fame, but if you're lucky, they're still the person you've always known. And as I've mentioned about Chris, I've known him since the first time I laid eyes on him as a tyke in a blue and white sailor suit.

But now he is a full-grown, handsome young husband and father of two, a veteran of two wildly successful Broadway musicals ("The Lion King" and "In The Heights") and now there's the CD. It was almost too much to comprehend, until I read Ron's message. When you download a CD, you don't get access to the liner notes on the packaging, obviously. But Ron ordered his copy through the mail, and when it arrived, the first thing he noticed was that Chris sent ME a shout out, as one of the folks from Cairo who had made a difference in his life.

But then he made both me and Ron lose it by dedicating the CD to the memory of several people who've passed on--one of whom was my sister, Julie Newell. "I owe my Life, my Passion to you! Forever my Angels!"

It's hard to describe how I felt lying there in the dark, reading that message. But as Ron mentioned on his blog, it did remind me of the time Julie and I went to New York to see Chris perform shortly after "The Lion King" launched. He scored us two fairly good mezzanine seats, but they weren't together. Having watched her struggle through incredible pain from the lupus, just to get dressed and ready to head to the theater, it was agonizing climbing behind her on the steps as we made our way to the seats. And I probably missed half the show craning my neck to keep an eye on her, to make sure she was okay, even though I knew every joint in her body was probably screaming in pain.

But I'll never forget the way she flung herself at him afterwards, when we met up with him at the stagedoor. I had never seen her so proud of anyone, or anything, even ME for that matter. And I was just as proud and thrilled for him.

So much so, in fact, that I don't even mind sharing my Archangel Julie with Chris now that he's so famous. In the name of love, CJ, I am so proud you are my friend.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Forced March

Okay, I've gotten through the first half of March relatively unscathed.........

Like I wrote in an earlier posting, March has morphed into a completely sucky month, for several reasons. Memories of my eldest brother David settle in during the first few days, and now, fresh waves of emotion are roiling about another brother, Fred, who made his transition last month....

And whose 59th birthday would have been on March 21st. But lately, I've started noticing that several of my good friends have the same March malaise issues. My pal Joyce in Raleigh lost both of her parents in this third month of the year, and my BFF Faith lost a good friend last year during this period.

Eventually, you start to realize that if you live long enough, so many horrible things will happen there'll be plenty to distribute throughout all 12 months, and there really won't be any time slot left for you to check out from reality. Truth be told, right now July looks to be about the only free and clear shot I have for a 30-day period unencumbered by visions of doom.

Of course if I'm still living in Kenya in July 2011, I'll be bummed at yet ANOTHER missed opportunity for slightly charred hot-dogs and fireworks...

Aww, screw it! Pass the Prozac, already....

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Sukuma Wiki For the Soul

This posting is a personal message to the woman in the photo on the left, but if you want to read it, I'm sure she won't mind.

"Dear Ellen,

"I'm sure you'll probably think of this as completely outrageous revisionist history, but somehow, I always, always knew your reserved, shy demeanor back in the Clearwater Bureau of the St. Petersburg Times was a total cover-up.

"When we met back in the mid 80's, I was still deep in the whole meek, introverted "Good Girl" persona, and I never really allowed myself to get to know you. This was further complicated by the fact that you were one of my editors, which means you weren't to be trusted anyway. But I remember always being startled when you cracked a joke, or laughed, even, because you were so quiet and reserved. I was at least able to open up and relax a bit around colleagues I considered friends.

"Ironically, one of those colleagues was a guy I wrote about back in December, when I was in Juba, Sudan for the radio reporters' workshop. The late Paul McGorrian, the beautiful, cheeky, lanky young Wasp who became so dear to me was also your friend, and it was only after I wrote that posting that you shared your secret...YOU were in love with him, too!!! I guess it's just as well that we were both so reserved and shy back then, or we'd have probably scratched each others' eyes out.

"I know I'm rambling, so let me get to the point. A few years back I learned that you had become a Unity Minister, and I was at turns astonished and totally unsurprised. It made sense, mostly because Unity was the only "religion" I had ever committed to after leaving Cairo. The whole metaphysical, intellectual aspect of Unity appealed to me from the minute I was introduced to it. You don't have to surrender your brain to believe in Unity. You don't have to feel like a worthless piece of crap who needs to be "forgiven" and cleansed before you'll ever get your reward--AFTER you're dead, by the way. You can be in the world, feeling like you're part of the same divine spirit that created the Universe, which means you can walk around with your shoulders squared and looking people in the eye, and feeling like you matter.

"The funny thing is that while I've flirted with Unity over this past decade, and embrace Daily Word affirmations as often as I can, I never really sought out any of your writings. I knew you were a pastor at Unity Church of Wimberley, Texas, but I also knew I wouldn't be getting there anytime soon. But then back in January of this year, I noticed an email mentioning something called "Unity FM," which streams programming from Unity pastors and associates online. Well, living in Internet-challenged East Africa makes ANY kind of online endeavor dicey at best, so at first I didn't think much of it. But amazingly, through my nifty new 3G iPad, I can download videos and online radio with barely a hitch.

"Ellen, that's when I discovered your program 'Absolute Living.' And I just had to tell you that your deep, soothing, slightly Texas-twanged voice has been nourishing me ever since. It seems like each of the feeds from you and your co-host Laura Shepard speak directly to something that I've known I need to work on, or have been working on, or didn't even realize was creating all kinds of issues, longings, gaps and gaffes in my life.

"And I'm learning about you in ways that would have never happened back when I was an emotional and spiritual amoeba in Clearwater. I was just watching the world go by back then, furiously paddling my way through, hoping to somehow earn the respect and love that I wish I'd known I was entitled to all along. And when I look at this picture of you, I realize how far we've both come. It's like THIS is who you were all along, and it only took a couple of decades for us both to figure things out.

"Somehow, we both discovered the recipe for being pretty interesting, dynamic women, eh? All it took was a little psychic culinary exploration. Dicing the doubt, chopping away the negative energy, marinating in positive self-esteem, and
hard-boiling a belief that we had something extra to contribute to the world.

"So thank you, Ellen, for providing me with some spiritual sukuma wiki over here in East Africa. It has such a bold flavor all its own, and it's much more nourishing than chicken soup, trust me."